This is a light-hearted (true) decluttering story of some of the things I cleared out after my Mum died.
When my Mum passed away, I was given four weeks to clear her flat. I took home everything that I couldn’t make an immediate decision on. That meant dozens and dozens of boxes and items came back to our house and ended up being piled up wherever I could fit them, from the loft, to the corner of my daughter’s room, to the conservatory. We have no storage space in our house, so for a while it felt as though my mum had moved in with us.
Box by box, I went through everything over a period of months. I do still have some things left. There is jewellery, hundreds of photos, and other more sentimental items that I need more time to deal with. But the majority of her things I have managed to find a new home for. Mum was always interested in collectables and antiques, so a lot of her stuff had some monetary value, and some of it was really unusual.
As emotional as it was dealing with Mum’s things, it wasn’t all bad. There was the week I sorted through her vinyl records. I don’t have a record player, but I do have an Apple Music subscription so I looked up every record I remembered her playing and spent several evenings listening to the dulcet tones of Tom Jones, Demis Roussos, Glen Campbell and Barry Manilow. I played “Mandy” about 15 times in a row – I honestly had no idea I liked Barry so much. I’m sure my neighbours appreciated the trip down memory lane. They are ten years younger than me, but who doesn’t love a Manilow song?
Mum had some strange and unusual items too, some of which I had never even seen before. I was emptying out a drawer in her flat when I came across a sawn off cow horn. I had no idea what to do with it (and at the time I wasn’t 100% sure it was bovine and didn’t want to send a rhino horn to the charity shop), so it came home.
Anyone need a cow horn?
After identifying it with the help of Google (pretty sure it was a from a cow), I decided to list it on eBay. I sent many bags of things to the charity shop, but sometimes when I want to declutter something unusual it feels like I should do better and see if I can find exactly the right owner. It didn’t make sense to chop off more cow horns when I had a perfectly good one that someone could have. Somewhere out there, I was sure there was someone who would love it.
And there was. Because after I had listed it he messaged me and asked if the cow horn was sanitised for the consumption of liquids. And how much liquid it could hold.
I can’t actually think of any reason to drink out of a cow horn unless you are taking part in some kind of satanic ritual – not that I’d know.
I told him I had no idea, but that it looked very clean. Then I sent him some length measurements (difficult to be precise because of the curve), and waited.
He bought it. I packaged it up and hoped it was going to a good home.
The Rooster Debacle
Mum had a lot of solid brass statues. They aren’t worth much, even as scrap, but there are a lot of people out there that really love brass. And pubs use them as decorations too. She had about 15 brass statues of varying size, and I listed all of them on eBay, from the 8kg Cowboy Standing By His Horse to the teensy 0.5 inch brass duck.
As you can well imagine, listing items on eBay is not the most interesting of pastimes. But I really wanted the things Mum loved to go to people that would appreciate them. I had already taken about 10 bags to the local charity shop by this point and they had hinted at my last trip that surplus stock would be refused.
To make listing things on eBay slightly more interesting, I started to become more creative with the titles. Small Brass Duck sounded much better as Tiny Solid Brass Mallard With Flat Bottom. Small Brass Rat was better as Solid Brass Very Realistic Rat With Long Tail.
The last brass item I listed was a Rooster that was six inches tall. Idly, I typed into the title field: 6 Inch Solid Brass Cock.
Mum would have found that really funny, I thought. I laughed to myself and submitted the listing (grief makes you do odd things).
One week later nobody had bid on it, but it had had a lot of views. Five minutes before the end of the auction, a bid went in and it sold for 99p. Fab. Someone did want it after all.
Then my phone pinged and I had a message from the buyer.
Where do you live? I want to collect it today.
I went back to the listing and noticed that I’d left ‘collection’ ticked as an option.
I’d advertised a six inch solid brass cock, my username had the word “girl” in it from when I’d joined eBay back in 2003, and I’d made it clear that the winner could collect it from me in person. Doh.
The last thing I wanted was someone leaving me negative feedback when I told them they couldn’t collect and had to pay £2.95 postage on a 99p item. But there was no way I wanted this man to come to my house either.
After some thought on how best to handle the situation, I messaged him back and said:
I told my wife she was being an idiot for listing it like that. I can drop it round to you mate, or you can just cancel the bid if you’re having a laugh.
And then I waited, wondering who I was going to ask to play my ‘husband’ if the dude said he still wanted it, and how exactly I would explain to them that they needed to take a brass cock to someone’s house.
Finally, he replied.
I just thought I could collect it as I’m local, but please cancel it.
I re-listed it as a Solid Brass Rooster. And I put the height in the description, not the title. It went to a good home.
Up In Arms
It took about five months before I had finished sorting through all the boxes, and finding a home for everything. I had put aside the heavy sentimental stuff for another day (or year), and I had one bag left in the boot of my car that I needed to dispose of.
On a lovely sunny morning, I followed my sat nav to the nearest open police station (the one in my town is permanently closed, which is either really good news or really bad news). I parked up, opened the boot and took out a Marks and Spencer carrier bag from the back.
The police station reception was a square room with two service points on one side. The desk stretched across the whole room and the top half was completely covered with glass panelling. There was a small hole for transactions, a bit like how banks used to be. A man was talking to a police office at one desk, complaining about his neighbour stealing something from his garage.
Can I Help You?
Another police officer came out to the other desk, and asked if he could help. He was grey-haired, very tall and very serious looking. I stepped up to the glass panel and asked him if I could hand in knives.
“Hand in what?” he said, peering over his glasses at me.
“Knives?” I said, a bit louder this time.
The man with the pilfering neighbour looked sideways at me.
“Oh!” said the policeman. “Yes.”
“Great,” I told him, lifting up the Marks and Spencer bag and putting in on the edge of the desk. I reached in to grab a handful and started pushing Mum’s collection of sizeable pocket knives through the transaction hole. The policeman looked startled and grabbed them as I shoved them through. There was a lot of clattering and metal-on-metal, and then silence. The man with the pilfering neighbour and the other police officer had stopped talking and were just watching.
“What about ammunition?” I said next.
“Er,” said the policeman.
I reached into the Marks and Spencer bag and pulled out a bullet belt. It was actually from a French gun used in the second world war, so probably an antique, but it had a live bullet in it and I’d been driving around for weeks worrying about it exploding through the side of my car. I really didn’t want to take it home.
“Er, um, yes, we’ll take that,” he said.
“Great!” I beamed at him. I fed the bullet belt through the hole. “It’s not mine,” I said, suddenly conscious he might think I was some kind of criminal. “It’s my Mum’s”
He stared at me as if I was mad.
“Do I need to sign anything?” I asked
He shook his head. Jaw open.
“Great, thank you.”
I turned around and walked out into the sunshine. As with all decluttering, I walked back to my car lighter than I had left it, and with that sweet sense of peace and accomplishment you feel when you have found the right home for the things you no longer need.
A Decluttering Story
I shared this decluttering story because sometimes when someone dies we find ourselves in the oddest of situations. The kind of situation that the deceased person would no doubt have found hilarious.
And I also shared it to illustrate that things may mean so much to us, but to others they are just things.
If you have precious possessions, always be sure to share the story and the emotion with your loved ones. Maybe those knives meant something to my mum. I had never seen any of them before and all I could think of was that I didn’t want them ending up in the wrong hands. But whether they did mean something special to her or not, she would have enjoyed the story of what I did with them in the end.
I miss my Mum terribly, especially now – my first Christmas without her – but I know that she’s always a part of me and her memory lives on not in her things, but in the stories I will tell my children about her.
Merry Christmas, and happy New Year.